Climate Change and Road Congestion


This is a post about cause and effect, or rather, the lack of cause and effect.

Climate change and road congestion are related, not in a causal relationship, as one might unthinkingly conclude, but as emergent phenomena in complex, chaotic systems far from equilibrium.

If you made it through that paragraph unscathed, I’ll explain further. If not, see my post on Chaos HERE.

Climate prognostication and traffic planning exist in a world of linear relationships, the “If you push something hard enough, it will fall over” world. Every effect has direct discernible cause(s), such that planners can always count on a predictable outcome from any given action. For instance, climate change is caused by human produced CO2 in the atmosphere; traffic congestion is caused by insufficient capacity in highways. Thus, the stories go, if we decrease human produced CO2, climate change will stop or at least decrease; if we add lanes to the highways, traffic congestion will decrease. It seems intuitive.

While this approach has served humans well for generations, in our modern world of 7 billions and counting, with our global societies and ubiquitous technological innovations, linear cause and effect is overcome by the complexity and chaos of our social and technological relationships.

Climate is an emergent phenomenon of chaotic nonlinear relationships among numerous variables and feedbacks, a spaghetti tangle of natural cycles on the Earth, in the solar system and beyond, including human industrial activity and land use changes.

We know that climate changed long before human activity had any other than very local effects. Assuming that modern observed climate variation is “caused” by human production of CO2 is not only factually wrong, it diverts attention from the reality of natural climate variation, misapplies enormous human resources and economies, and ignores the inescapable necessity that humans accommodate to natural cycles rather than attempting to control them.

We know from observation that traffic congestion is often the result of accidents or tailbacks at off and on ramps. Sometimes we run into a clot of cars on the freeway that has no discernable cause and that clears up for no discernable reason, leaving no car parts on the verge to reveal its dynamics. We also know that widening the highway may temporarily relieve existing traffic congestion, but in a relatively short period of time congestion returns in the newly created lanes and ramps.

These seemingly disparate observations are the result of increasing numbers of cars interacting within the complex system of individual driving habits and distractions, on and off ramps and local road conditions, resulting in non-linear responses to small changes in driving conditions. Increasing highway capacity only increases the complexity of these interactions and does not address the root causes of traffic congestion.

If humans fail to learn that we cannot control climate by reducing CO2 production, and that widening the highway will not reduce traffic congestion, then we fail to explore social changes that accommodate to natural climate variation, and reduce dependence on automobiles and truly reduce traffic congestion.

It’s time for a new approach to human growth and development, technology and society. It’s time to apply our growing understanding of chaos and complex, non-linear systems to everyday problems of moving about on a planet with highly variable and unpredictable climates.


Why I’m voting for the Green Party in November


the Green Party’s Party’s Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka are combining genuine social movement activism with an electoral campaign for a Green New Deal—a many-sided program that is much more than just another bit of progressive policy wonkery. It’s an existential necessity for a decent future, one that combines a giant livable ecology-saving program of national and energy and economic reconversion with a giant jobs program and universal health insurance paid for by genuinely progressive taxation (long overdue in “New Gilded Age” America) and massive reductions in the nation’s giant Pentagon System (which accounts for half the world’s military spending). How does any environmentally sentient and peace-advocating lefty not vote for all of that in the current age of savage inequality, rampant militarism, and ever-more imminent eco-catastrophe?

Source: Paul Street: Keep Calm and Vote Green: Fascism Is Not Coming – Truthdig

Between the Hammer and the Nail

ed359-global_warming_or_global_coolingYes, I know everyone has jumped aboard the Global Warming bandwagon, hammered together the climate change apartment house and moved in lock stock and barrel to the CO2-causes-Climate-Change studio apartment. It’s a shame that such a ramshackle edifice dominates the climate science skyline.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science, 1966

Part One

Climate change has become the cause celebre of modern thought and action, the hammer employed to bang on almost everything else. Every Progressive cause from highway congestion to homelessness simply must be cast in the glare of Climate Change and/or Global Warming. Every organization from the United Nations to my local County Board of Supervisors is invested in the concept as the source of funding for addressing all social ills.

The basis for this totalitarian acceptance of human caused climate change, aka Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the theory of radiative forcing of atmospheric warming, the so-called Greenhouse Effect. As we’ll see later, this is an instance of an attempt to prove an experiment by invoking a theory, rather than the accepted scientific process of proving a theory by experimentation and hypothesis testing.

Carbon dioxide radiative forcing was first proposed by Joseph Fourier in 1824, demonstrated by experiment by John Tyndall in 1859, and quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. The unfortunate and inaccurate descriptor “Greenhouse Effect” was first employed by Nils Gustaf Ekholm in 1901.

The basic premise of the “Greenhouse Gas” theory is that greenhouse gases raise the temperature at the surface of the Earth higher than it would be without them (+33º C). Without these gases in the atmosphere (water vapor (0 to 4%), Carbon dioxide (0.0402%), Methane (0.000179%), Nitrous oxide (0.0000325%) and Fluorinated gases (0.000007%) life on this planet would be impossible.

This basic theory is deployed to buttress the assumptions that increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations (mainly CO2) cause increased global average surface temperature, and, therefore lowering atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reduce or even reverse increases in global average surface temperature.

Let’s look at the observations and assumptions that have led to this erroneous conclusion.

Observations and Assumptions

  1. Observation – Humans produce greenhouse gases through industrial activity, agriculture and respiration, increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from ~300 ppmv to ~400 ppmv over the past 58 years
  2. Observation – The calculated measure of global average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880.
  3. Assumption – Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere causes an increase in global average surface temperature.
  4. Assumption – Increase in global average surface temperature will cause changes in global climates that will be catastrophic for all life on Earth.
  5. Conclusion – Therefore, reducing human CO2 production will result in a reduction in atmospheric CO2 concentration and a consequent reduction in increase of global average surface temperature, stabilizing global climates and preventing catastrophic climate change.

Items 1 and 2 are observations with which few climate scientists disagree, though there may be quibbles about the details. CO2 and temperature have both increased, since at least 1850.

Items 3 and 4 are assumptions because there is no evidence to support them. The correlation between global average surface temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration is not linear and it is not causal. In fact, deep glacial ice cores record that historical increases in CO2 concentration have lagged behind temperature rise by 200 to 800 years, suggesting that, if anything, atmospheric CO2 increase is caused by increase in global average surface temperature.

Nevertheless, the “consensus” pursued by global warming acolytes is that Svante Arrhenius’ 1896 “Greenhouse Gas” theory proves that rising CO2 causes rising temperature.

However, in the scientific method, we do not employ a theory to prove an experiment. Since we have only one coupled ocean/atmosphere system to observe, the experiment in this case is the Earth itself, human CO2 production, naturally occurring climate variation, and observed changes in atmospheric CO2 and global average surface temperature. There is no control with which to compare observations, thus we can make no scientifically valid conclusions as to causation. If we had a second, identical planet earth to compare atmospheric changes in the absence of human produced CO2, we would be able to reach valid conclusions about the role of CO2 in observed climate variation, and we would have an opportunity to weigh other causes of climate variation shared by the two systems.

To escape from our precarious position between the hammer and the nail, we should understand all possible causal factors, human caused, naturally occurring, from within and from without the biosphere in which all life lives.

Based on our current cosmology, it is my conclusion that we live in a chaotic, nonlinear, complex coupled ocean/atmospheric adaptive system, with its own set of naturally occurring and human created cycles that interact to produce the climate variation we observe. This variation is not the simple linear relationship touted by the IPCC and repeated in apocalyptic tones by those who profit from its dissemination, but rather is a complex interplay of varying influences, that results in unpredictable climate variation.

More about chaos and complexity in the next installment.


The -ism That Isn’t

It’s increasingly clear that human societies of every stripe are engaged in a program of natural habitat and environmental destruction as a direct result of their focus on population and economic growth with accompanying increases in material consumption. Mainstream politics and economics stride on in lock step toward the yawning abyss clearly visible on the near horizon.

Global warming, aka climate change, captures the minuscule imaginations of politicians and their journalistic lapdogs, while their corporate puppet masters take full advantage of the resulting fear mongering to line their own pockets. Amid this frenzy of faux activity, natural habitats continue to decline, species continue to go extinct, water supplies diminish, topsoil continues to wash away downstream and real human pollutants continue to pile up in the corners of all ecosystems around the globe.

Some social and political activists offer alternatives to the status quo, none of which, to any great extent, offer a meaningful alternative to the dominant social systems. Among these, so-called “ecosocialism” is presented as a solution to growth dependent industrial socialism and capitalism.


Hans Baer: “Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.”

Source: A vision of democratic ecosocialism

The above Hans Baer quote from Climate and Capitalism expresses the response of a minority of socialists to environmental degradation at the hands of a growing human population and its expansionist political and economic systems.

Ecosocialism is, of course, an anthropocentric political and economic philosophy, attempting to project environmental concern in an otherwise human centered endeavor. It fails in this attempt because it is, first and foremost, conceived by socialists who are not ecologists, environmentalists or even scientists. It merely tacks on the label “Eco-” onto “Socialist,” without challenging prevailing economic, political and social relationships among humans and the non-human world.

For example, the statement “humans live on an ecologically fragile planet” is inaccurate and self-serving. Ecologists know that natural ecological systems are robust, vibrant and adaptive. It is human destruction of natural habitat and exploitation of “natural resources” that depletes natural biodiversity and interferes with natural ecological interrelationships that leads to the erroneous conclusion  of “fragile” ecosystems. Labeling the planet as “fragile” takes the responsibility for its degradation away from human action and responsibility.

The phrase “with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed” assumes that “resources,” that is air, water, sunlight, soil, minerals, plants and animals, are solely for human use, and ignores the irreducible necessity of these resources to the non-human world. It also assumes that humans can “sustain and renew” these resources, rather than concluding that humans must instead reduce our consumption and exploitation of natural raw materials required by all living things.

Finally, the phrase “for future generations” appears frequently in ecosocialist discussion, underlining the basic assumption that preserving vibrant ecosystems is necessary for human betterment rather for the intrinsic necessity of all life.

Human impact on the natural world is the product of per capita economic throughput (consumption) multiplied by population. Ecosocialism attempts to address only the consumption part of this equation, assuming that socialist economic and social systems will result in overall population stabilization, ignoring the fact that human population has already overshot the carrying capacity of this planet, as is evidenced by increasing environmental degradation and ecosystems failure.

Humans are an animal species, subject to the same instinctive drivers of population growth as are all other animal species. The difference between humans and other animal species is that humans have largely eliminated predators that keep human population growth in check. While rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses may change that relationship at some future date, at present human population growth continues, even in countries with social conditions conducive to smaller families.

Depending on increased standard of living and improved social relationships as the sole regulators of human population growth is unrealistic and ultimately defeating. Raising the standard of living of the entire human population to a threshold level that might result in decreased population growth is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether caused by excessive consumption or excessive population growth, the ship is still going down.

What is required, if humans are to continue to live on this planet, is for human societies to function within natural ecological cycles and interrelationships, not above but side-by-side with all other species, as part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Rather than tacking “eco-” onto “socialism,” those concerned with human impacts on the world on which we live would do better to envision a human world that first and foremost exists as a contributing and cooperative part of the natural world.

The name is not important. Yet another -ism isn’t the answer.

A World of Weeds and Wounds


In an October 1998 essay in Harper’s Magazine, David Quammen proposes the idea of  “weedy” species: “scrappers, generalists, opportunists. They tend to thrive in human-dominated terrain because in crucial ways they resemble Homo sapiens, aggressive, versatile, prolific and ready to travel.”

As humans construct and expand their built environment, the natural world becomes increasingly depauperate with wild, native species giving way to adventitious weedy species able to take advantage of and even thrive in degraded environments. Through species extirpation and extinction, biodiversity is decreased, leaving only those species dependent on humans and/or those that can survive in spite of human domination.

Here in Santa Cruz, our City and County officials are overwhelmed by crime, gangs, “homelessness” and general disrespect for law and order, as a result of unlimited population growth. City and County officials seek to solve the problems brought on by population growth by encouraging even more population growth, and resulting development of the tiny bit of remaining natural land that makes Santa Cruz such an attractive place to live, work and play.

City and County bureaucrats and elected officials cannot see what some of us see when we look at Jesse Street Marsh, the San Lorenzo River, the Arana Gulch Greenbelt, Pogonip, Moore Creek, County beaches and mountains. They see only problems with price tags attached. To them, environmental protection and restoration costs money and does not solve the problems that reflect on their job performance and/or their re-election.

“Activating” natural areas is bureaucrat speak for social engineering to cause the problems to move elsewhere, somewhere less “activated,” the next place to be stripped of its native vegetation, its wildlife driven off, its water diverted to human uses, it’s air filled with noise.

The ultimate outcome is that human growth and development inevitably diminishes natural areas to the point that we live in a world of weeds and wounds. It’s to the point that there are really no “natural” areas left. Even “wilderness” is conceived of and formed by human intervention.

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

It is the job of those of us who see the marks of death in our world of wounds and weeds to speak out, whether others want to be told or not.

Native flowers and invasive humans

Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis)

Mentzelia laevicaulis, Smoothstem blazing star, Mono Lake, California, July 2016

Tramping across the sagebrush flats overlooking Mono Lake, we encountered two of these startling native wildflowers in bloom, surrounded by other nondescript plants, crumbled tufa and the decaying remains of past agricultural failures.

Despite all attempts by invasive humans to wipe out anything and everything natural, including Mono Lake itself, these showy wildlflowers burst into bloom, adding bright spots of color to the otherwise sear and arid scene.

Mono Lake continues to reflect the endless sky, thanks to dedicated activists who stopped the citizens of Los Angeles, 350 miles away, from flushing it all down their toilets. The lake is still lower than in the past, but it is no longer threatened to become the twin of what once was Owens Lake further south, now an empty basin full of dry alkali dust that takes to the air at the slightest puff of wind. Though much was lost, much remains, though much was lost.

Human folly knows no bounds. Building a major city in the arid southwest was a bad idea to begin with, made possible only by the artificially cheap energy necessary to pipe water over two major mountain ranges to water the desires of acquisitive developers. The city continues to grow, despite the inescapable fact that there is no more water to be stolen from its natural habitat and all species that live there. The vapid economic aspirations of Homo sapiens preclude any consideration of other species, the inescapable future and the nature of physical reality itself. That which cannot go on forever, doesn’t.

Meanwhile, the smooth stem blazing star continues to bloom around Mono Lake, celebrating life, patiently waiting for more recent upstart species to learn the lessons of evolution and rejoin the eternal dance.